When we think of literature in the broadest sense, including its many genres, perhaps “storytelling” is the best way to regard its essential role in human existence over time. Stories, or narratives, are found not only in literature, but are crucial to science, to politics, to religion, to economics, and to cultural and personal self-awareness. Literature as story has always explored the nature of the world, and through its narratives has changed what is imagined and then becomes “reality.” Right now there is growing awareness that cataclysmic climate change of human causation threatens the world and is already altering the structures of all life, from microbiota to the human species. Apocalyptic visions of a drowned and flooded world or of the world on fire are becoming reality across the globe. Climate change has already arrived—we are living it. To save the planet and ourselves means generating new stories—it’s the literature of life and death. The term ‘Cli-fi’ describes narratives found in fiction and film but also in all categories of human culture, that passionately explores or reimagines the accelerating realities of climate change as an existential crisis. We will read and view major, diverse examples of Cli-fi from early prophetic fiction by H.G. Wells to the dystopian sci-fi of Philip K. Dick, the gendered eco-fiction of Ursula K. LeGuin, the Afro-Futurism of Octavia Butler, and its contemporary explosion across media, in films by a black Southern collective and a cutting edge Korean film-maker, and new fictional forms as in Rita Indiana’s Tentacle. Climate fiction predicted and bears witness to the ecological emergency affecting the planet and our collective future, and offers, in tandem with science, politics, spirituality, and ethics, new narratives for change, survival, grieving, and healing. The climate crisis is planetary: addressing this crisis means reading its signs in global stories, and recognizing the immense contribution of often ignored cultures and groups, especially indigenous peoples and those from the Global South, who have been telling alternative stories of humans as part of nature for a long time. Cli-fi questions the nature of proof and belief, agency and action, hope and despair: it’s a literature of stories that awakens and transforms us, alerts us to the broken ecologies we inhabit, and the new narratives we need to envision to create a future, a place where fiction becomes truth, in the Anthropocene.
The key goal of the course is to spark awareness of the ways that our own life narratives are actually a form of climate fiction. The course uses exciting and timely materials from diverse authors and sources, includes narratives from science and technology, from politics and economics, and from all kinds of stories: fiction, poetry, short stories, film, TV, visual art, performance, science fiction, sacred stories, from YA to “high literature.” Stories are now techniques of survival, whether made for TikTok or after decades of literary labor. The course is meant to elicit curiosity, creativity, and change, and ideas for collective action as we see how to re-frame narratives and create new ones.
This course is a fairly large lecture class, which includes discussion as well. You’ll be rewarded for coming to class by having two Extra Credit flash quizzes, taken in class, which only count if you do well. These quizzes offer significant extra points that count toward your score on the midterm exam and the final exam. The short answer Part 1 of the midterm exam will be taken in class; there will be a short essay Part 2, with a choice of one prompt to respond to, that’s due Friday a week later, submitted electronically by midnight. The short answer part of the final will be taken in class as well, so it can be done early. The other required task is a final project of your choice: you can write a short essay, make a video, do illustrations or a painting, make a comic for kids, write or film a short eco-fiction, describe a vanishing place, species, or way of life, write a poem, write an opinion piece, a piece of journalism, or make a policy or community project. Discover a website and add to it, write about a book or film not on the syllabus, make a map with photos/captions of a pilgrimage in a national park, create a short narrative that could be a PSA or given as a talk. Choose a spot on the UCSB campus from which to record the climate crisis. Pick a tree and name it, get to know it. Design an eco-fashion line, photograph it, compose music, make a Cli-Fi soundtrack. Make a poster for or write about the Green New Deal. Explain Greta Thornburg’s awesomeness. Design a menu for an eco-conscious restaurant, write an elegy for an extinct being. It’s also possible to collaborate on this project—to do something together. Everyone will get the same grade for a collaborative project, whether it’s two people or 6 max. Use your skills, your major, your obsessions, your hopes: enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, passion, activism, creativity, remembrance, insights, are rewarded. The project must matter to you.
Distribution for the Final Grade:
Coming to class and doing the reading and viewing is highly rewarded. If you do well on the two extra credit quizzes you’ll have 5 or 10 extra points to add to the midterm and another 5-10 points for the final short answer exam.
The midterm short answer exam plus the very short essay (2-3 double-spaced pages) is 40% of the overall grade. The final short answer exam plus the final project is 60% of the overall grade. The extra credit points for the final exam are only applied to the short answer part, not to the final project. If you care about the course and keep up, it’s very possible to get a grade in the A+--B+ range, and if almost all the grades cluster there, that is fine with me. The course is designed for you to be able to do very well if you’re coming to most classes and reading most of the assigned texts. The final project is due by email by or on March 20th.
There are NO extensions or incompletes granted due to the generous terms.
Required Texts: (you can get these in any edition, or as e-books, or used, except for Tentacle, which has just been published in one paperback edition.)
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
Penguin Classics, PB, ISBN-13: 978-0141439976
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Del Rey Books, PB, ISBN-13: 978-0345404473
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Word for World is Forest
Tor Books, 2nd Edition, PB, ISBN-13: 978-0765324641
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (April 30, 2019)
- ISBN-10: 1538732181
- ISBN-13: 978-1538732182
Rita Indiana, Tentacle
- Publisher: And Other Stories; First English language edition edition (January 15, 2019)
- ISBN-10: 1911508342
- ISBN-13: 978-1911508342
We’ll watch several films that I’ll make available to you by streaming:
Beasts of the Southern Wild Behn Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar 2012
Snowpiercer Bong Joon-Ho, 2013
To be Determined: a very relevant TV adaptation of a climate crisis fiction!
All short essays, short poetry, indigenous art, and short stories will be available as pdfs or as clips on GauchoSpace. (These are from authors such as bell hooks, Timothy Morton, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Monbiot, Tony Lopez, Lauren Groff, and others.)